Renewable Energy Referendum Gets OK in Congress

The resolution calls for a vote on a $4 per semester student fee increase to fund sustainable energy projects on campus and buy power from renewable energy providers.

With numerous questions and concerns voiced by representatives, the debate lasted more than an hour during the meeting.

Details of the possible uses for "green energy" were explained and defended by members of the Student Environmental Action Coalition, who lined the back walls of the meeting room and spilled out into the hall to show their support for the resolution.

SEAC garnered support from UNC's Campus, Energy and Facilities services to place solar panels on the campus's new science complex, which is under preliminary construction. UNC's Energy Sustainability Task Group has committed to outfit the building with solar panels if the money becomes available.

SEAC members said UNC spends $50 million a year on energy, about two-thirds of which comes from coal -- a major concern expressed by the students.

Paul Cox, a representative for SEAC's Green Energy Campaign, said that if the referendum was on the ballot, students, who have a responsibility to protect the environment, could choose where their energy comes from.

But some Congress representatives were concerned that student funds would be taken off campus and put to uses that would not directly benefit students.

Controversy arose over where the power would be generated and how much of it would benefit UNC students.

In the proposed plan, power would be generated off campus by N.C. GreenPower and sent to a power grid. UNC would be one of the recipients of the energy from the grid, while student fees paid to the power company would be invested to create a collateral base for renewable energy. This collateral would in effect create a market and ensure funding for future green energy projects.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Natalie Russell said the resolution was "fundamentally wrong in using student fees to create a market."

The power grid would provide power not directly for UNC but for the Chapel Hill community, and representatives were hesitant to let fees be spent in a way that might not directly benefit students.

The passage of the bill was met with applause from many in the room.

But during debate on a bill to create a Renewable Energy Special Project Committee should the referendum be approved, Student Body President Jen Daum noted that the figure of $192,000 -- the total generated by the $4 hike -- was inaccurate. She said that with summer school prorated fees, the actual total could be closer to $300,000. Speaker Tony Larson said members could reconsider the resolution with a two-thirds majority in light of Daum's remark. But the matter was not reconsidered before adjournment.

Student Body Vice President Aaron Hiller said the students had spoken. "Put it on the ballot," he said. "Let them decide."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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